A man like any other
Sitting in the train, minding my own business; diagonally across from me on the other side of the aisle sits a lady with a tidy seat, fully engrossed in her paper and her coffee. She's done that before, she knows what to do, knows how to hold a paper and balance a cup simultaneously. In Rotterdam a young man gets on, he must be in his twenties, and takes a seat directly opposite me. Our legs get in each other’s way a little but the puzzle is soon solved. He is dressed in an immaculately ironed, light blue shirt, light grey trousers and a dark blue blazer, not too worn, with brass buttons where you would expect to find them and traces of dandruff over the shoulders. A little later I see that all this is offset by black socks and extremely scuffed shoes, once black, now grey and flakey. The soles have given up and hang limply from whatever they can still hang on to. The young man's body is short and stocky, strong even, his face reptilian with thick glasses and a mop of curly dark hair and a sharp and firmly clenched jaw. He looks at no one and sees nothing. Nothing is wrong. He is, for a very short moment, slightly puzzled by the book I have laying on the console table, but then returns to stare into nothingness. He is right, nothing is wrong; everything is just how it should be… Then, as the train starts off and begins to gain momentum to enter the long tunnel under the Meuse, his body writhes and his arms move about. His hand finds and grasps a small tube of shoe-polish in his jacket pocket; he hangs his right leg over the arm rest next to him and begins a contortionist's effort to blacken his sad grey shoes. He does it quietly, determinedly, with complete concentration and little obvious skill. The lady I mentioned earlier, who sits next to him, but on the other side of the aisle, observes him intensely, as do I. After a while we catch each other’s eye and smile. The man takes about ten to fifteen minutes to blacken his shoes after which he straightens himself and sits looking straight ahead of him all the rest of the way to Breda where he gets off.
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